Citing a difficult global market, the largest seafood company in the U.S. announced this week that it’s looking to sell several of its facilities in Alaska.
Seattle-based Trident Seafoods will look for buyers for four shoreside plants in Alaska, including for its nearly year-round operations in Kodiak and three seasonal plants in Ketchikan and Petersburg in Southeast Alaska and False Pass in the eastern Aleutian Islands, according to a prepared statement from the company.
The company will also be “retiring or seeking buyers” for other assets, including the historic South Naknek Diamond NN cannery facility in the Bristol Bay region, and facilities in Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula.
The company is the largest seafood processor in the state, with plants in 11 communities.
The changes are part of a major restructuring in Alaska that will allow Trident to focus on remaining assets as it and other U.S. producers face headwinds on the world market, the company said. Declining demand, excess supply and foreign competition have pushed down prices, squeezed profits and displaced U.S. producers from established markets, the statement said.
“We are competing against producers in other countries that do not share our commitment to or investments in environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and product quality,” said Trident chief executive Joe Bundrant. “Many of our foreign competitors operate with minimal regulatory costs and oversight, inexpensive infrastructure, and exploitive labor practices.”
The company’s overhaul includes trimming back its support functions at its Seattle headquarters, leading to a 10% reduction in that workforce, the statement said. Privately owned Trident employs 9,000 people in six countries and partners with more than 5,400 independent fishermen and crewmembers.
Julie Bonney, head of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak, said Trident’s moves are a sign of the difficulties in the Alaska seafood industry right now.
Low prices across a variety of species are hurting fishermen, she said.
“It demonstrates how bad the market is for all Alaska seafood,” she said. “Every fishery in the state of Alaska is facing huge challenges, in terms of the ability to move product into the marketplace.”
Bonney said she believes part of the problem is competition from Russian seafood entering the U.S. market through a loophole.
The Alaska congressional delegation in June introduced legislation they say will ban Russian seafood that has been substantially processed in another country before it comes to the U.S., unless Russia opens its market to American fishermen and processors. The delegation said an executive order issued by President Joe Biden last year only banned the import of unaltered seafood from Russia.
Bonney said tariffs and other trade sanctions, along with increasing costs for packaging, are additional factors hurting the industry. “So the processing sector is reacting to that,” she said. “They have to. They are a business.”
Trident intends to remain competitive by focusing on wild Alaska seafood — while also aggressively reducing costs and improving productivity, the company’s statement said.
“We are modernizing and retooling the remaining Alaska plants to be more efficient, effective, and sustainable operations,” said Jeff Welbourn, Trident’s senior vice president of Alaska operations. “This will allow us to continue supporting as many fleets and communities as possible across Alaska for the long term.”
In August, Trident announced it would delay its three-year plan to build a processing plant at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to replace an aging facility in nearby Akutan. Construction will likely begin again after the restructuring plans in Alaska are completed, the statement said.
In Kodiak, the company will look for a buyer for its operations that run nearly year-round, handling species that include primarily pollock, salmon, Pacific cod and crab, the company said.
“Our Kodiak operations are integral to the Gulf of Alaska fisheries,” said Welbourn. “They are highly efficient, multispecies plants, and we are working diligently to find a new owner to support the fleet and the Kodiak community.”
Trident said it plans to significantly scale back the winter season in Kodiak.
That statement surprised and shocked Kodiak fishermen, said Rebecca Skinner, executive director of Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association.
The group represents about 14 independently owned trawl boats with crews and skippers from Kodiak, she said. They’re typically about 80 feet long, she said.
But Skinner said she called Trident representatives on Wednesday to better understand their plans. They assured her that the amount of seafood processed in Kodiak during the winter season fisheries, which includes pollock and cod, should be equal to about last year’s levels.
But it won’t be significantly higher, she said.
Skinner said that more broadly, Trident’s announcement has generated uncertainty among fishermen about how the sale of Trident’s processing facilities in Kodiak will play out.
Will multiple small buyers acquire the different Kodiak processing facilities, or will they all be sold as a batch to one large company? Some of the trawl boats deliver salmon in the summer as tender boats working for Trident, and there are questions about how that work might change in a sale, she said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what this will look like in the 2024 year and that causes a lot of concern,” she said.
A Trident spokesperson said Wednesday the company was declining additional comment and is “focused on supporting employees, fishermen, and partners at this difficult time.”
Welbourn with Trident also said the sale of three seasonal plants in Ketchikan, Petersburg and False Pass will align better with the strategies of other operators.
“We are optimistic the combination of new ownership and our continued service to the fleet through our other locations will mean little to no disruption for regional salmon fleets,” Welbourn said.
Trident is also assessing its company-owned vessel strategy.
“Overall, I remain confident in the Alaska seafood industry and our role in it,” Bundrant said. “These are significant changes, and we are focused on treating our impacted employees and communities with the respect and compassion they deserve.”
[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Trident’s changes would result in a 10% workforce reduction. Trident said a 10% headcount reduction will take place in association with the company’s support functions at its Seattle headquarters.]